AN OFFICIAL day to remember the victims of honour violence and forced marriage was created to leave a legacy of hope for victims, said its creators.
The Day of Memory for Britain’s Lost Women, which took place on Tuesday (14), saw survivors and support agencies across the nation unite to raise awareness about honour-based violence.
The day also marked the birthday of Shafilea Ahmed, who died in 2003 aged 17. After suffering years of honour-based violence, including an attempted forced marriage, her parents suffocated her to death in front of her siblings.
An estimated 5,000 women around the world are killed every year for bringing ‘shame’ upon their families; at least 12 of these victims are British. Charity Karma Nirava, which is behind the Day of Memory, said the true number could be higher, as many girls simply “disappear”.
“One death in such a horrific way is one death to always remember and never forget,” said Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of the charity.
“We want to remember them as the honourable human beings they were – and we want to dishonour the crime. Our vision is for this to happen every year – we’re leaving a legacy, we want this to be here for the next hundred years.” She added the day was held on Shafilea’s birthday because victims could relate to her story.
“Shafilea, in terms of who she was, was the most common caller to our helpline, so she is the most effective person in Britain to get our message across,” said Sanghera.
“She was a young kid and had everything to live for. She was ambitious and articulate. She wanted to be a barrister and was going places. “But she was beaten up on a regular basis by family members because she was too ‘Westernised’.
She reported this to six organisations and was sent back to the family and murdered. The travesty of that case and her life is one of many.”
Sanghera, a survivor of forced marriage herself, started Karma Nirvana in 1993 and provided the UK’s first helpline dedicated to supporting victims who have experienced honour-based abuse.
She said support services which were politically correct were stifling the protection of vulnerable people: “There is an attitude of ignorance that exists, whereby some professionals believe this to be part of one’s culture, tradition and religion.
“Victims who report this have said they were not believed, or the response has been that they return to their perpetrators. We know that predominantly in these cases it’s the nearest and dearest who are doing this to them.
“If you deal with me as a sensitive case, then what we are actually doing in a way is colluding with the perpetrators. We recognise there is fear among professionals, a lack of confidence, so we need to remove that by increasing their knowledge, and that’s a training issue.”
Last month, Britain saw its first forced marriage prosecution take place. A 34-year-old man was jailed for 16 years after making a 25-year-old woman marry him against her will. Sanghera, who helped persuade prime minister David Cameron to make forced marriage a criminal offence, said the conviction was a huge step forward, but more help should be available.
“The important thing to acknowledge is the law is one year old. The forced marriage unit have 1,300 reported cases this year, so the scale of the problem doesn’t tally up with the convictions.
“To have one conviction is poor. I’m pleased, but there’s something not right. We need to have a conversation about the fact that offences are happening and not being investigated.”